On a late Fall day, New Standard’s Ben Cochran and marketing staff, Jake Peterson and Celene Olson, were invited to Platte Colony in central South Dakota, about two hours west of Sioux Falls. The opportunity? To learn what the day in the life of a Hutterite looks like. New Standard has had the pleasure of working with many colonies around the US and Canada, and we wanted to highlight the way of the Hutterites.
The plan for our visit included a noon meal, a tour, and some great conversations. Upon our arrival, we sat down with our host Danny and started our chat. The rest of this article shares our questions, answers, and some beautiful insights into the Platte Hutterite Colony. We hope you enjoy reading this half as much as we enjoyed our visit.
Danny was incredibly welcoming and transparent, and nothing was off base or taboo to ask; he encouraged us to ask anything we had on our minds.
HISTORY OVERVIEW & FAITH
What is a Hutterite?
Hutterites are a self-sufficient community, hard-working, industrious, and deeply religious. The Hutterites started in Europe. The primary reason the Hutterites began was a disagreement about infant baptism in the Church. Instead, they believed that once someone was a believer (Christian), they could be baptized as a Christian. Some other differences that set the Hutterites apart are they practicing pacifists who don’t believe in fighting or arming themselves for protection.
When was Platte Colony founded?
Platte Colony was founded in 1949 after a split from another colony. Typically colonies split or start new homesteads once size becomes a factor and the finances allow it to sustain itself. Thus, Platte was one of the first established colonies in the Dakota’s.
Tell us more about Baptism.
We believe in a believer’s Baptism. Someone has to understand their Christian faith to get baptized. A believer’s Baptism shows a commitment to the Christian faith and also to the community.
What is a Church like in a Hutterite Colony?
We have Church every day. We gather at 6 pm with singing, prayer, and a message from the preacher. On Sundays, we have Church two times, for about an hour and a half. The kids have Sunday school after the service to help them understand the bible verses and message. The kids learn to memorize bible verses and are building foundations for faith.
COLONY ROLES & FINANCES
Does the Colony offer jobs/careers?
Men do not get to choose what they do as a career; instead, jobs are decided by the Leaders, who place a man where he will hopefully fit best. When a job is given, men are expected to accept the position.
When men start a new role or job, they have many supporters to help train and encourage them to get a good start. However, if they genuinely cannot complete the job’s tasks or the stress is too much, they can resign and be given a new role elsewhere in the Colony.
If a manager or boss position is available, Leaders and married Baptized brothers will vote on the man for the leadership role.
Women’s Roles in the Colony
Women in the Colony have many roles. The women take on all the food prep, from baking to meal prep to serving and cleaning up. Women also tend to the vegetable garden; Platte has a greenhouse for fresh veggies year-round.
Industries at Platte Include:
Grains (corn, soybeans, and more)
Poultry: Ducks, geese, turkeys
Garden/ Produce (mostly for internal use)
What about the kids?
Kids from 3-5 years old have daycare from the beginning of May until the end of September. The German school teacher keeps the boys busy with learning how to do chores around the community after school hours.
Kids also work in the garden and help out where they can. Kids are taught from a young age how to work the farm and contribute to the Colony.
Once kids are 15, they have a graduation ceremony and can get a job within the Colony. Teens that wish to continue their education in high school can attend.
How does a Minister’s role work?
Ministers provide spiritual care and guidance for the Colony. Ministers are chosen by the following process:
1. The colony leaders vote to narrow down candidates; they must receive two votes from leaders to become a candidate.
2. All the baptized, married men cast votes; a total of four votes must be received in order to proceed.
3. The candidates’ names are placed into a hat. We pray over the names and put the decision in God’s hands.
The drawn candidate becomes the minister for the Colony. Many of the ministers take the role of a German school teacher. Some also have jobs within the community.
How is the Colony Guided?
There is a group of leader/elders that oversee Colony rules and guidelines. Leaders/Elders meet annually to discuss changes and policy. These guidelines are in place to help people live the best Christian life they can. Minor rules and regulations are decided and managed within each Colony.
If more significant issues require outside law enforcement, we will get the law involved, although that rarely happens.
“We don’t believe in judging. We forgive, and help others find the right path again, we believe in showing the right kind of love, the love that Jesus taught us.”
How do finances work?
There are no salaries or wages for jobs in the Colony. All money is funneled into the colony account. Individuals do receive a stipend of three dollars a month, which can go towards anything extra. When larger purchases are needed, we usually have to go to the Elders for approval over a certain amount; for instance, our barn needs an equipment upgrade or something more costly. However, that varies from Colony to Colony.
What if an individual needs something else?
If we need anything, we can request that from the colony secretary. For instance, you need a new pair of boots, an oven, or home supplies; it will be provided based on the displayed need. It is genuinely communal living, and everyone has just what they need.
COLONY LIVING & CULTURE
Did you choose Colony life?
At a certain time in our lives, we understand why we love the colony life. “You develop wisdom over time,” states Danny Waldner. “Younger generations, it is tough for them. But, once they understand and grasp the afterlife and read the right book (Bible), they will appreciate the colony life.”
What about your clothing?
Once upon a time, some wore blue jeans and belts, but the glitz and glam of the clothing began to bring too much attention to the individuals. Preachers got together and decided that things were getting too flashy. So we switched to black pants and suspenders since they were less flashy. We try not to adopt the worldly way of living.
Undergarments, shirts, skirts, and dresses are handmade. Pant styles can vary from Colony to Colony. Either they will make their own pants, or they will buy the pants. Everything is muted in color as we have faith and Christian faith, not by appearance but by how we live. We want to show the right kind of love and living without outside influence.
We typically have someone in the Colony that can help with health issues. For example, we have a man that has experience as a chiropractor. Otherwise, we will go into town or a hospital to seek help as needed.
Births and Birthdays. Are there celebrations for those?
For births, there is no formal celebration besides congratulations. There are no baby showers or things like that. As for birthdays, it depends on the family how they want to celebrate those. We have done celebrations at five and then at 15, but some families choose to celebrate every year.
We host social events and gatherings for our Colony with other Colonies. Our people get to choose who they want to date and marry on their own. There is no arranged marriage.
There are strict guidelines in regards to dating pre-marriage. Physical relations are strictly forbidden. If it does happen, they either have to marry each other; or if they don’t want to marry, they will not be allowed to marry anyone.
Colony members can retire if they want to; however, most want to work as long as possible.
What about death?
When someone dies, we have a wake at the Church. We sing songs, pray and have a sermon. Between the wake and burial, we go to the home and visit with the family. The family has private time to say goodbye before the funeral. Lastly, the deceased is laid to rest in the cemetery on the colony grounds.
We use the best technology we can afford. It comes down to doing our jobs well and efficiently, we utilize the latest tech available. From our tractors and grain facilities to hog and turkey barn automation systems, we work hard to stay up-to-date.
Men in the Colony have smartphones and do utilize apps, but mostly text and call. We can use apps if it’s for business, but we need to get approval first. If a woman needs a cell phone, the men will often share it; otherwise, most women use wall phones to communicate within the Colony.
What does one do for fun?
Often younger ladies and men will go on trips and visit other colonies. Playing baseball and volleyball in the evenings is popular as well. A day of fishing on the Missouri River is an event many look forward to. Usually twice a year we will go fishing.
How do Colonies support each other?
Colonies tend to stick closely together and will jump in whenever help is needed. If someone is in a bind in another colony, we will help out. We will do what we can to help get them back on their feet. Colonies are a close-knit group of communities working together and showing the right kind of love to those everywhere.
OUTSIDE THE COLONY
How do you feel about people that are not Hutterite?
We believe that God is available to everyone and that everyone has the same chances as we do. It is not all about our way or the highway. We’re human too, and we’re certainly not perfect. We know some wonderful Christian people who are not Hutterite.
Do outsiders ever join a Hutterite Colony?
It has happened, but it is hard because you need to be born in it. If someone wants to join, outsiders must ask permission and understand that outsiders may not understand our way of life and find that challenging. We are used to this style of accountability. They also need to get rid of all their possessions. The money goes into the colony fund, which may cause issues for those not born into this way of living.
Struggles in a Hutterite Colony that people might not be aware of?
For me (Danny), leadership can be a challenge. This is a significant thing that leaders struggle with, making decisions on what is best for everyone instead of what is just best for the leader. Bosses make a lot of hard choices, day in and day out. But, as leaders, we need to make decisions that benefit our people and make the world better for them.
Our way of life can be more difficult because of the morals and values we adopt. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
What sets Hutterite people apart?
We strive to show the right kind of love to everyone. It comes down to good, selfless leadership. We strive to be Godly towards each other and our neighbors.
Our visit to Platte was incredibly welcoming and insightful. We honestly felt like part of the family. So, if you ever have the opportunity or if you’re curious about the Hutterites and their life, stop by a colony or reach out to schedule a visit; you won’t regret it.
Huge Thank You to Platte Colony, Danny, and Donna Waldner, and their family for hosting us and answering all our questions. Hannah, our tour guide, and everyone else we meet during our visit.